Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Hark to the call of the silent majority

I always liked Holmes' insight about the silent dog in the nighttime. The idea that you can deduce as much from a negative as a positive is a powerful one, and often consoling when you find all your best efforts falling apart. But you can take it too far. Tread warily around the man who claims that the very absence of evidence for his thesis is proof of its perceptive accuracy:

"But I noticed something else as well: something that wasn't there. Every other issue I mentioned was picked over and debated. One was not. It concerns the most glaring democratic deficit over which this government has presided, yet almost everyone is too polite to mention it."

You and I might think that if nobody wants to talk about an issue, it's because they don't think it's an issue. Not so but otherwise. That polite silence is the sound of furious agreement. Else, we would have some curious situation where right-thinking people did not agree with George Monbiot - theoretically possible, of course, but too outlandish to seriously consider.

The rest of the article is merely yet another rehash of the West Lothian Question ("Where's West Lothian?"), and is interesting only insofar as it throws up a hitherto unsuspected parochialism in Monbiot's understanding of carbon emissions:

"Had Heathrow's third runway been debated only by English MPs, the proposal would have been resoundingly defeated; it was approved by 19 votes, after 67 MPs from the other nations were induced to support the government. They can support such measures without any electoral risk, as their constituents are not directly affected."
I'd understood that emissions and the resulting damage to the climate were a problem for everyone; now it seems that the Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh are immune. Or at least not "directly affected" while (presumably) voters in Cumbria are right at ground zero.

It's in the nature of democracy that people not "directly affected" still get a vote. MPs for land-locked constituencies have a say in fisheries policy; you don't need a car factory in your back yard to vote for a bailout. And you can bet that Monbiot was none too troubled by the idea of urban MPs voting against fox-hunting. And that's fine. It's probably a good thing, in fact, that we strive for some collective say in the sort of nation we want to live in as opposed to leaving decisions to those directly affected, thus reducing our political process to a knife-fight between people whose interests are by definition directly opposed. If the goal is a just and equitable solution, that approach is somewhat lacking.

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